The Aztecs are in the national semifinals, and Brian Dutcher has helped turn a longtime dream into a reality at SDSU.
San Diego State may not be in the Mountain West for much longer — but for now, the Aztecs are in the midst of the league’s best season ever.
SDSU survived a gritty Elite Eight battle with Creighton, winning 57-56 on the strength of Darrion Trammell’s game-winning free throw with 1.2 seconds remaining. The Bluejays held the advantage throughout the first half, but the Aztecs slowed down the game and fought their way back, slowly but surely.
It was a controversial late foul call that sent Trammell to the line after Creighton’s Ryan Nembhard made contact with the SDSU guard during a 2-point attempt in the lane. The call sent shockwaves through social media and even had the postgame crew debating the merits of calling a potentially game-deciding foul so late in what had been, to that point, a physical game with a relatively lenient whistle on similar contact.
Despite the debate, Trammell hit the shot when it mattered. Then, on the final play — in which a long Creighton pass was deflected out of bounds with 0.2 seconds showing on the game clock — the referees made another controversial decision to end the game. Based on a computerized timer embedded in the instant replay software, the officials determined that the game clock started late and that time should have expired prior to the ball touching out of bounds.
It was a convoluted, confusing, chaotic, and ultimately anticlimactic ending for a game of this magnitude. But speaking of magnitude, this was a win that could help move mountains for San Diego State.
The Aztecs became the first team in Mountain West Conference history to make it to the Final Four, just days after becoming the first MW team to earn an Elite Eight bid. This run has been a testament to the stubborn-headed, glacial-paced project that former head coach Steve Fisher started back in 2000 with current head coach Brian Dutcher by his side.
Since then, the Aztecs have made 12 NCAA Tournament appearances after making just three in the program’s first three decades of existence.
Now, Dutcher — the man who was on Fisher’s national championship staff in 1989, who followed Fisher loyally to SDSU, who waited nearly two decades for his turn to run the show — has San Diego State in the Final Four.
“It’s something we’ve always talked about,” Dutcher said of taking the SDSU program all the way to the national semifinals.
“I’m sure there were people who doubted we could do it, but we never doubted for a minute. Not to say it’s easy to get there, or that (we thought) we’d ever get there, but we’re going now, and we’re gonna go try to win the thing.”
What does all of this mean for the school’s ongoing realignment talks? What about the league it will (seemingly) soon leave behind? That’s all still to be determined and debated ad nauseam in due time. Ideally, both parties will benefit from the Mountain West’s first-ever Final Four appearance. But for right now, the Aztecs aren’t thinking about that stuff. They’ve got a national championship to go win.
No matter what happens with conference affiliation going forward, though, San Diego State might transcend mid-majorhood forever if they end up cutting down the nets in Houston.